WEST FRANKFORT — Despite losing to the host in the final game, the Herrin Tigers won their third straight title and seventh in the last eight years at the 22nd Annual West Frankfort Mid-Winter Classic held at Max Morris Gymnasium on Thursday.
"We would have liked to get that last game, but Frankfort is a good ball club at home," said Herrin first-year coach Chris Roberts. "If we had made our free throws (6-of-14) it might have been a different game, but we were a little flat tonight and didn’t get it done."
Herrin (6-15, 2-1 Mid-Winter) actually finished tied with Pinckneyville, who beat Sesser-Valier-Waltonville, 57-51, in the first game Thursday night to also finish with a 2-1 record, but the title was awarded to Herrin because of the Tigers' victory over the Panthers on Tuesday.
"I want you to know Coach Bill Green coming back to help me has been awesome," Roberts said. "We love him to death. He’s the one who built this program and now has turned it over to me. I’m proud of each and every one of my girls who continued the excellence this week."
Led by all-tournament selection Cali Wright’s 21 points, West Frankfort rebounded from a 25-20 halftime deficit to beat Herrin, 50-43, for its first win of the tournament after losing to Pinckneyville, 54-37, in its opening game and 50-46 to Sesser-Valier-Waltonville on Tuesday.
The Tigers were led by Marissa Russell, who won her first MVP award during her career, and her cousin Madison Russell, who was also named to the all-tournament team. Madison finished with 14 points and Marissa finished with eight, as did Morgan McKinnies.
"Winning this tournament and getting those wins under our belt helps us a lot," Marissa said. "Knocking off Sesser-Valier to open the tournament gave us a lot of confidence and boosted our self-esteem a lot. We started working a lot better as a team."
The Tigers jumped out to a six-point lead midway through the first quarter on a 3-pointer by Madison Russell, but the Lady Redbirds rallied to tie the score at 15 on a jumper by Cali Wright with 19 seconds left in the frame.
Herrin rebounded with an 8-0 run to open the second quarter. With 1:52 remaining in the first half, Wright hit a 3-pointer, and after Madison Russell and Megan Beery traded baskets, the Lady Redbirds trailed by five at the half.
McKinnies opened the second half with a layup to give the Tigers a seven-point lead, but West Frankfort responded with a 13-1 run, highlighted by seven points by Beery, who finished with 16 points, and five by Wright, including a 3-pointer with 3:39 remaining in the quarter. That gave the Lady Redbirds their first lead, 29-28, since leading 2-1 at the 1:29 mark of the first quarter.
Madison Russell closed out the third quarter with a layup to cut the lead to three, but Madison Carpenter opened the fourth with layup to extend the lead back to five and the two teams traded buckets the rest of the game.
"We’ve struggled in the third quarter coming out flat, but tonight we came out with a little energy after making some adjustments so we were able to get a lot of people in the scoring column," said West Frankfort coach Matt Hampleman. "We’re real happy with Beery and Wright’s play. The freshman Lexi McLaren, who did an outstanding job on the boards (nine rebounds), as well as Chloe Peavey, who showed she can do more than post-up. I’m real happy with where we’re at as long as we keep improving."
In the opening game, Sesser-Valier-Waltonville trailed 41-22 with 2:30 remaining in the third quarter to Pinckneyville, but rallied to cut the lead to one with 2:37 remaining in the game. The margin was still at one with 1:52 remaining, but the Panthers were sent to the line three times, making 5-of-6 free throws to seal the win.
Kenzie Rushing led the Panthers with 19 points and Paige Tucker led the Devils with 15.
Joining the Russells and Wright on the all-tournament team were Tucker and Sami McCowen from Sesser-Valier-Waltonville and Bella Pasquino and Ashton Hawks from Pinckneyville.